June 29, 2007

Culture is dead! Long live culture!

Yet again, today's post comes from a recent NPR story, this one about an Andrew Keen's new book The Cult of the Amateur: how today's internet is killing our culture.

The interview was fascinating - you can listen here - was fascinating, and not just because the author's got a fabulous British accent.

Keen's first lengthy statement, in response to a question asking "let's make sure we're all on the same page here...overall, just give us a brief description of the problem you have with this interactive version of the web"...
My problem is that [Web 2.0] fundamentally undermines the authority of mainstream media. We are seeing two things going on simultaneously: the rise of this user-generated content which is unreliable and often corrupt and a crisis in professional journalism, professional recorded music, newspapers, radio stations, television, and publishing. And that is the core of our culture. Once we undermine the authority and expertise and professionalism of mainstream media, all we have is opinion, chaos, a cacophany of amateurs.
This is an isssue that I have been considering for a fair while now: the move from professional creation of news, media, and entertainment to a society where all entertainment and news is created equally and amateurly, challenging us to sort through so much dreck to find any kernel of wisdom or quality news. The increasing volume of information out there, with a corresponding withering of, to quote Keen, the wisdom of the professional frightens me because the sheer volume of crap out there will likely make it tougher and tougher to find what matters, what is important.

In a professional culture, the ratio of signal to noise is managable. We know that some of what we see and hear is without merit, but so much of it is with merit that we can trust our media by default, knowing that the incidents of untrustworthiness are few and far between enough that they will be brought to our attention when the are found.

In an amateur culture, however, the signal to noise ratio shifts drastically in favor of the noise, meaning that we must, by default, distrust our media, hoping to find the tiny amounts of worthwhileness that rise above the miasma.

But how will we find that?

Who will point out what is good, what is worthy, what is trustable if the only people I hear from are people whom I trust no more than I do myself?

If I am the news media (I've already begun blogging. What's to stop me from newsblogging?), then why would I trust the words of someone else's news? I know my biases. I know when I'm stretching the truth. I know when I'm talking without a lot of facts to back up my opinions. How do I know that the other people talking back to me aren't doing the same?

I look forward to reading Keen's book, and I continue to wait for 2014.


achilles3 said...

I do want to read it before I really comment BUT when the mainstream "news/entertainment" (how one they have become, sadly) mostly sucks and focuses on pop crap then how serious are the harms he mentions???
NPR forever.

Benjamin said...

culture is not your friend, it is your operating system. and I agree with achilles, I rarely watch tv because of the crap programming and the constant bombardment of commercials and the crappy broadcasts, yes you have to also filter through crap online but there are sources of good information, I really like the TED talks but I still take that with a grain of salt, I find main stream culture is bastardized and cut to fit the shitty social norms of yesterday. You should question whatever people tell you, no matter the source. I have enjoyed and got more out of independent music and movies then I have main stream. I say good riddance to popular culture and hello to the anarchy where true freedom of expression prevails.